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Outstanding Graduate Award

Outstanding Graduate Award – Winter 2023

Outstanding Graduate Award - Winter 2023 Jaelyn Elizabeth Landers

Winner: Jaelyn Elizabeth Landers

Jaelyn Elizabeth Landers graduates with an associate in arts degree and a 3.61 GPA. She plans to pursue a career in labor and delivery nursing, as she’s had a longstanding desire to help mothers, fathers and babies through some of the most challenging and wonderful times in their lives. She’s also experienced her fondest memories in labor and delivery – meeting her younger siblings.

Landers understands firsthand that tough choices are critical in life. She chose to stay close to home and attend SCF while working and spending time with her father, who lost his battle against kidney cancer. She’s since been supporting her family, paying for college and applying for any available scholarships. Despite her hardships, she’s seen the best in her surrounding community and is committed to giving back. Beyond maintaining an impressive GPA and managing her priorities, Landers has been an integral member of SCF. She is currently the President of the Student Government Association (SGA) and Vice President for STEM.Med, and in 2022, she served as the Vice President of SGA. Landers has also been an active member of Phi Theta Kappa, Sigma Kappa Delta and the History & Political Science Club.

Her service extends outside the College, volunteering for various organizations and events such as Sarasota Memorial Hospital, Keep Sarasota Beautiful and K-Kids Club at Taylor Ranch Elementary Open House. She has even managed to find time to help set up and break down local schoolteachers’ classrooms. Her leadership positions with SGA allowed her to advocate for students and forge long-lasting relationships with faculty and staff, who continue to root for her. Landers credits SCF’s many resources, from academic to mental health support, for her success and encourages fellow students never to shy away from asking for help. “SCF is definitely a place where you can grow and succeed.”

Finalist: Colton Cook

Colton Gray Cook, former United States Coast Guard, served four years stationed in Key West, FL, as an electronic technician, consisting of various deployments and search and rescue missions, and is graduating with an associate in arts degree and a 3.62 GPA.

Cook equally values maintaining stellar grades and participating in extracurricular activities. He is the current President of Student Veterans of America Bradenton Chapter, founded and created the annual SCF Dodgeball Tournament, joined the Phi Theta Kappa Honor Society and participated in numerous volunteer events.

In addition, he was accepted into the two-week Warrior Scholarship Program hosted at Cornell University during Summer 2023, where he was mentored in humanities, physics, trigonometry and computer coding. His immediate goal is to work in finance on Wall Street to help people get the most out of their investments and live their dreams. Cook knows he wouldn’t be where he is today if he didn’t serve his country and receive the GI Bill and wants to pay it forward. His true passion lies in fishing, and his ultimate goal is to protect the ecosystem and help prevent over-fishing in Bradenton by working with commercial fisheries. As career- and goal-minded as he is, Cook sincerely appreciates SCF’s exceptional professors, dedicated faculty and support staff for making his time here remarkable.

Outstanding Graduate Award - Winter 2023 Kristen Rose Pizzo

Finalist: Kristen Rose Pizzo

After a nine-year hiatus, Kristen Rose Pizzo graduates with her associate in arts degree and a 3.94 GPA. Pizzo disregarded discouraging remarks that returning to college would be a waste of effort and was compelled to re-enroll at SCF to become a veterinary technician. She’d spent several years working at a veterinary clinic where she met a deaf client. Pizzo didn’t know American Sign Language (ASL) and could only use written communication. She felt helpless and immediately registered for SCF’s ASL classes, which led her to the College’s Tutoring and Academic Success Center (TASC).

Working as a writing and ASL peer tutor ignited her passion to become an educator. Pivoting her initial career goals, she plans to attend the ASL Interpreting program at the University of South Florida after graduation. She aims to work in the field as an interpreter before attaining a master’s degree in Interpreting Pedagogy to teach ASL in a higher education setting. Pizzo values relationship building and has joined several organizations, including the Nerd Culture Club, Phi Theta Kappa, and the Sarasota Deaf-ASL Group, and served as a Student Activity Budget Review representative.

She earned Outstanding Academic Achievements in “Introduction to Literature” and “Horror, Fantasy & Science Fiction” and the Honors Convocation Award “Outstanding Award in American Sign Languages.” Working as a TASC tutor, Pizzo is most proud of the guidance she’s provided students, some with debilitating conditions. As someone who’s struggled with a severe speech impediment herself, she’s appreciative of SCF’s inclusivity. She urges students “to open your mind and heart to the wisdom and lessons people have to share, and I guarantee you will become the best version of yourself.”

Past Outstanding Graduate Award Winners

Outstanding Graduate Award Winners: Ana Graciela Gonzalez
Outstanding Graduate Award Winners: Ana Graciela Gonzalez

OGA Winners:
Ana Graciela Gonzalez

Ana graduates with an Associate in Science in dental hygiene. She plans to work in a dental office and further her education by earning a Bachelor of Applied Science in health service administration at State College of Florida.

As a student, Ana has been involved in dental hygiene organizations, outreach and community service. She served as a student delegate for the Student American Dental Hygienists’ Association and was a second-place award winner at the 2021 Florida Dental Hygiene Symposium Poster Research Session along with her classmate. She has visited an elementary school, residential home and a local church teaching students and adults how to brush, floss, and do other oral health preventative measures.

Ana and her family emigrated from Honduras 12 years ago. As an immigrant family, her parents worked hard to give Ana the opportunity to become the first generation to go to college. Her goal is to help her community by promoting and improving oral health by providing quality dental hygiene treatment and home care education. She also serves as the youth leader, musician, and board member for her local church. Ana has worked as a student ambassador at the Student Services desk for two years where she welcomes, assists and answers questions for potential students and campus visitors. She is grateful for her SCF experience.

“SCF gave me hope and motivated me to believe in myself by accepting me into the college … and pursue my dream career by graduating this semester with my A.S. degree in dental hygiene.”

Outstanding Graduate Award Winners: Kaitlyn Lorraine Shehorn
Outstanding Graduate Award Winners: Kaitlyn Lorraine Shehorn

OGA Winners:
Kaitlyn Lorraine Shehorn

Kaitlyn is graduating simultaneously from SCF and Venice High School (VHS), having participated in SCF’s Accelerated Dual Enrollment program, which allows qualified high school students to enroll in the College full time and earn an Associate in Arts degree. She will attend the University of Florida to study public relations in the College of Journalism and Communications.

Kaitlyn has excelled academically and holds a 3.93 GPA. She is a lifetime member of Phi Theta Kappa International Honor Society. She also served as the band captain for the VHS Marching Indians, president of the Tri-M Music Honor Society, and secretary to the Student Government Association’s senior class.

Kaitlyn earned the Girl Scout Gold Award (awarded to fewer than six percent annually) for developing an educational campaign about healthy and unhealthy relationships called #whatislove. She also helped organize SCF’s Healthy Relationships Week. As part of service to her community, she created the first annual VHS Toy Drive to benefit Sarasota Memorial Hospital-Venice. Kaitlyn has been involved in several leadership summits, including recently being selected as a delegate for the American Legion Auxiliary Girls State from American Legion NO-VEL Post 159.

Kaitlyn says time management is crucial for success. “With the right schedule, you can accomplish everything on your list and more! Visit the Academic Resource Center and respect your professors. They are full of wisdom and knowledge.”

Outstanding Graduate Award Finalist: Brian Keith Edwards II

Brian Keith Edwards II

Brian graduates with a Bachelor of Science in nursing (BSN). He maintained a 4.0 GPA while working full-time as a staff and charge nurse at Sarasota Memorial Hospital (SMH) Respiratory Progressive Care Unit. He plans to pursue a degree in healthcare administration and a Master of Science in nursing.

Brian’s college plans were interrupted in 2013 when his father was laid off from his job and then diagnosed with cancer. He postponed college, worked to help support his family, and founded the SciGuy Tutoring program that is still active and has served more than 120 students. His interaction with his father’s nurses led him to pursue a degree in the field. His path involved many steps, including working up to 80 hours per week while earning his Associate in Science in nursing, and working full-time as a registered nurse while earning his BSN.

Brian’s experience in the SMH Respiratory Progressive Care Unit during COVID-19 contributed to his capstone paper titled “Breathing Under Pressure,” which addresses ways to prevent pressure injuries related to oxygenation devices. He has agreed to share his findings with future students enrolled in the course. Brian encourages students to stay ahead of the game by being organized and not procrastinating. He says SCF allowed him the opportunity to grow as a nurse throughout the pandemic and offered unrelenting support in trying times.

Outstanding Graduate Award Finalist: Ashley Nicole Zinna

Ashley Nicole Zinna

Ashley graduates with an Associate in Science in occupational therapy. Her goal is to work with individuals involved with the justice system as an occupational therapy assistant and later study to become a certified occupational therapist. She has been on the SCF president’s and dean’s lists, was vice president of the Occupational Therapy Assistant Club and was a volunteer for the Tim Tebow Foundation’s Night to Shine.

Before attending SCF, Ashley earned a Bachelor of Science in kinesiology from the University of Texas at San Antonio and says it took several years to find her passion. In her second semester at SCF, she listened to a podcast about the medical challenges facing inmates and decided to focus on this population. She hopes to spread occupational therapy awareness, facilitate support groups and improve the lives of those in the prison system.

Ashley encourages student success by getting to know your professors and taking advantage of SCF’s many resources.

“SCF is an incredibly unique community of faculty and staff willing to do whatever it takes to see their students succeed inside and outside the classroom. I genuinely feel the experiences and education I got from attending SCF are invaluable and have prepared me to graduate and pursue my career with confidence.”

Winner: María Camila Medina Almaguer

María Camila Medina Almaguer, an established pianist since age seven, immigrated to the U.S. from Cuba with her family shortly before the COVID-19 pandemic. An international student with English as her second language, she completed her GED at Miami Dade College and now graduates with her Associate in Arts degree with a 4.0 GPA.

Medina plans to pursue a bachelor’s degree in music, concentrating on composition and media scoring, and secondary degrees in business and entrepreneurship to understand the full scope of the music industry. Medina made the President’s List and Dean’s List in 2021 and 2022, respectively, and maintained her perfect GPA while participating in numerous performances with SCF Bradenton Symphony Orchestra, SCF Presidential Jazz Combo and Jazz Big Band. She won the Florida College System Activities Association 2022 Student Artist Competition piano division and was the faculty-chosen recipient of the Sarasota Steinway Society scholarship.

She volunteered as an accompanist to Master of Fine Arts students at Florida State University/Asolo Conservatory for Actor Training and served as an essay judge for the Arts & Essay Contest at the Atlantic Institute in South Carolina. Medina shared that without the help of the SCF Financial Aid department, SCF Foundation and SCF Music Program donors, neither she nor her brother would have been able to pay for tuition.

“I was venturing into a new country where everything I truly knew about higher education – music especially – was that it was very expensive. SCF offered me affordable opportunities to develop my musicianship, and today, I feel very lucky and honored to become one of its alumni.”

Finalist: Victoria Lauren Flounders

Victoria Lauren Flounders, former beauty and wellness professional who worked as an esthetician and massage therapist, graduates with her Associate in Arts degree with a 3.75 GPA. She intends to study theatre, dance and performance at New College of Florida. Her ultimate goal is to join the Florida State University/Asolo Conservatory for Actor Training to earn a Master of Fine Arts degree. Initially hesitant to re-enroll in college,

Flounders resumed her education after her three young children began school. She strives to teach them the value of education and set an example of hard work and perseverance. “Nothing motivates me more than imagining their faces glowing with pride as I walk in my cap and gown. That is what I picture each day I enter SCF.”

Flounders has exceeded her goal of gaining a fulfilling college experience while managing her family life. She is a member of the Phi Theta Kappa Honor Society and has represented Delta Psi Omega National Theatre Honor Society at several campus events.

A dedicated member of the SCF Theatre Program, she has worked as a stage manager, actress, assistant director, and projection designer, and joined its work-study program. She has received awards for Best Actress in a Leading Role and Most Promising Newcomer. In addition, Flounders helped pioneer SCF Theatre’s internship program. After landing an artistic apprenticeship at Urbanite Theatre, she lobbied to receive educational credit for her position.

“I have received life-changing guidance, opportunities, and recognition through the SCF Theatre Program and staff, and though moving on will be hard, I am confident in my future.”

Finalist: Nikki Francisco

Nikki Francisco graduates with her Bachelor of Science degree in Supervision & Management, concentrating in Technology Management, with a 3.57 GPA. After graduation, she plans to earn industry certifications and pursue a career as an IT Project Manager.

Though her educational journey has been unconventional, she has not let her disability hinder her success. With government assistance, Francisco attended Vocational Rehabilitation, which helped her enroll at SCF. Her newfound confidence pushed her to build an impressive list of academic and extracurricular achievements. She has made the President’s List since 2020 and holds a part-time job with the SCF Foundation. Francisco is a member of the Phi Theta Kappa Honor Society, treasurer for the Entrepreneurship Club, and former vice president and current president of Future Business Leaders of America – Phi Beta Lambda (FBLA-PBL).

Through FBLA-PBL, Francisco represented SCF at the State and National Leadership conferences in 2022 and earned several Information and Project Management awards. She also represented SCF students and clubs as a Student Activity Budget Review committee member from Fall 2021-Spring 2022 to help determine where funds needed to be allocated.

Francisco is an engaged student and active volunteer. She started her non-profit organization through which she raised nearly $5,000 for Philippine typhoon relief and provided 750 families with food and clean water. She is also involved with the National Alliance on Mental Illness and The Bridge Church. Francisco has learned to find her strengths in unconventional places and strives to help others do the same.

“SCF has given me the confidence that I can be a contributing member of society and that I am more than my disability.”

Outstanding Graduate Award FAQs

Who is eligible to apply for the Outstanding Graduate Award?

OGA award winners must be eligible to graduate with their Associate in Arts (A.A.), Associate in Science (A.S.), Bachelor of Applied Science (B.A.S.), or Bachelor of Science (B.S.). The Fall OGA is open to students who graduated in the previous summer or will graduate at the end of the most recent fall semester. The Spring OGA is open only to students graduating at the end of the most recent spring semester. Dependents of SCF employees are not eligible for the scholarship award. 

All applicants must:

Have applied for graduation by the posted deadline.
Have a minimum cumulative GPA of 3.0 at the time of application. 

How do I nominate a student or myself?

Complete the appropriate form at the link below. All nominations must include a letter of recommendation, which should be copied and pasted into the form.

SCF Employee Nomination

Student (Self) Nomination

What will the OGA recipient receive?

OGA recipients will be recognized at commencement exercises and seated on the stage. Loyal and committed benefactors through the State College of Florida Foundation Inc. provide a monetary award of $1,500. For more information or to give toward this award, please visit the SCF Foundation.

If I am nominated, how do I apply?

All nominees who meet the eligibility requirements will receive an online application by email.

You will be asked to provide short answers to the following questions:

Which individual accomplishment at SCF are you most proud of and why?

What advice would you share with new students to help them be successful at SCF?

How has SCF made a difference in your life?

What are your plans after graduating from SCF?

The following items must also be included:

RESUME: Provide a PDF of your resume listing all relevant curricular, co-curricular and community service activities.

RECOMMENDATIONS: The OGA application requires two (2) letters of recommendation. One (1) recommendation must be from a faculty member (baccalaureate students must use an upper lever faculty member), and one (1) recommendation may come from a person of your choice. 

TRANSCRIPT: Provide a PDF of your unofficial SCF transcript from MySCF.
NOTE: Incomplete applications will not be reviewed by the committee. 

How will the OGA finalists be selected?

All applications and materials will be distributed to a selection committee. The selection committee will evaluate the applications and materials to determine who will be selected as OGA finalists.

When will the OGA finalists be selected?

The selection committee will choose the Outstanding Graduate and finalists mid-semester. Applicants will be notified of their finalist status a month before graduation.

What is expected of me if I am selected as one of the OGA finalists?

The OGA recipient and finalists are expected to:

Submit the Graduation Attendance Form online to guarantee participation.

Attend the graduation ceremony.

Complete a release form and answer any questions from SCF’s Marketing department to be used for
a press release and inclusion in the graduation program.

Have a picture taken by SCF’s Marketing department.

Questions about the OGA?

Contact: Tessa Bravata, Student Life Coordinator, BravatT@SCF.edu